The Pilot Debate

The winning team

The pilot debate – learning by doing and having fun

Pupils at Eton College and Burnham Grammar were given the opportunity to participate in a pilot debate run by Voices for Nature, based on the novel, Jabujicaba. The aim was to explore geo-political issues from multiple perspectives. The project was announced in assemblies at the beginning of the new school year, in September 2014. Students signed up and had a chance to read the book over the next three months.

Two workshops took place in January and February 2015 to explore values and characters of Jabujicaba and to build skills in debating. Coaching support was provided by Eton’s Debating Society and through mini debates. The final debate was held on the motion “This house believes that as a sovereign state, Brazil has the right to sell off its own rainforests.”

The final debate was attended by guests, parents, teachers and students. Professor Peter Riviere of Oxford University added academic weight to the multi-cultural approach using his specially written article, ‘An Amerindian Perspective’.

A show of hands from the house at the beginning of the debate split the audience exactly down the middle. A show of hands at the end moved 2/3rds of the audience against the motion.

The winning team successfully argued that the importance of the Amazon to the whole world was such that we all had a responsibility to protect it – beyond Brazil’s sovereign rights and necessitating new international legal frameworks. They drew on concepts of ‘commons’, ‘intrinsic value’ and global eco-system services.

These arguments trumped the opposition’s passionate stance that those with the right to decide the future of the Amazon, including to sell it, were the people of Brazil for whom it was their ‘home and their heart’.

The rebuttals and counters from both sides were impressive – drawing on history, anthropology, science and politics – all from the perspective of different characters from the book, Jabujicaba.

Educational benefits

Educational benefits from the pilot initiative, based on feedback from the students were (not in order):

-learning about important issues in a joined-up way
-improving public speaking and debating skills
-gaining new cultural insights
-building new teams and working with another school
-a huge sense of achievement

A well-deserved treat

To reward to all those who took part in the debates, in June 2015, there was a day trip to Oxford (where Voices for Nature is based), with a leisurely visit to the Pitt River’s Museum and a fun picnic in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens. We’d like to say a big thank you to both institutions – especially to Oxford Botanic Gardens, who even provided shelter from a sudden bout of rain!

Watch pilot debate video